Undercover probe of alleged high school drug dealing leads to multiple arrests

Operation A Team conducted at 4 local high schools

SAN DIEGO - A yearlong undercover investigation targeting drug-dealing at four North County secondary schools culminated Tuesday in the arrests of six minors and 10 adults.

During the probe, youthful deputies posed as students at Abraxas, Mission Hills, Poway and Ramona high schools, and were able to buy narcotics at the latter three campuses, according to sheriff's officials. The types of illicit substances purchased included heroin, cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

As a result of the investigation, dubbed "Operation 'A' Team," deputies and agents with the Narcotics Task Force and North County Regional Gang Task Force served 19 arrest warrants -- nine for current and former students at the four schools, and 10 to adults who allegedly sold drugs to the plainclothes personnel.

In addition to the juvenile suspects, whose names were withheld because they are underage, the following adults were arrested this morning: 21-year-old Jesse Dean Escalante, who already was in custody at Vista Jail on fraud charges; Maxwell Gaffney, 19, of Ramona; Ramon Kelly, 45, of Vista; Skylor McGee, 20, of Ramona; Kevin Ernesto Meza, 18, of San Marcos; Johny Viet Nguyen, 18, of Poway; Milton Ortena, 19, of San Marcos; Christopher Payne, 18, of Ramona; Edwin Sanchez, 19, of San Marcos; and Philip M. Silva, 25, of San
Diego.

The following three suspects remain at large: Troy Gagliano, 22, of Poway; Erik Johnson, 18, of Poway; and Jesus Zurita, 18, of San Marcos.

All but one of the juveniles were taken into custody at their high schools.

In addition to disrupting narcotics sales at the campuses, the investigation "provided intelligence on larger drug suppliers in the area," according to Sheriff Bill Gore.

"The San Diego County Sheriff's Department and NTF are pursuing these leads and will continue the investigation," he said. "The take-away from today is this -- if you want to buy illegal drugs, you very well could be talking to a deputy sheriff."

10News also spoke with several students near the campuses of Poway and Abraxas High Schools who say they are not surprised about Tuesday's drug bust. But 10News was surprised to learn how often drug use is discussed on social media.

The undercover drug operation has been an eye-opener for students, as well as the use of social media and how promoting an upcoming party or bonfire oftentimes mentions the alcohol and drugs which will be readily available.

"I mean, I don't see it, but I know it happens through like Facebook and text messaging and stuff," said Mark Anderson, a junior from Poway High School.

"Drugs, sex… there are a lot of things social media does wrong for this world," added Sarah Yasseim, a senior at Abraxas High School. "I am not surprised at all."

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department told 10News that a lot of the drug buys in the sting operation were set up over social media.

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